Further Thoughts On Bunche Elementary School

One of the things that stood out to me in the Bunche Elementary School story I reported on Monday was this:

The campus sits in what looks to be a solidly middle-class minority neighborhood in the city of Carson. But a closer look suggests the classic profile of a school with poor achievement: The student body is about half black and half Latino, most of the students speak limited English, and the entire student body qualifies for free lunches. Some students come from the surrounding neighborhood, but most are bused from Compton.

While many of the students come from the city of Compton, the school itself is in the city of Carson. For those of you not familiar with the area, Carson is drastically different than Compton. Carson, like all cities in the harbor area, has gangs, crime, and violence, but nothing at the level of Compton. Compton, while covering only 10 square miles, is a gang haven. This little area has over 8,000 gang members, literally hundreds of gangs, and is home to the most violent race wars in the Los Angeles area. Carson is a much bigger city but has only a handful of gangs, somewhere around 5-10 gangs, and a relatively safe living environment.

The reason this is important is because the article mentions that many of the teachers doing wonderful work at Bunche Elementary School come from Teach for America, a program “which places virtually untrained recent graduates from top colleges in urban classrooms”. The article also implies that teachers are now asked to work passed 2:30pm, and stay to tutor students who need additional help.

I wonder how well this education model would work with schools inside the city of Compton. I cannot think of one area inside of Carson where I would be nervous to walk around after 6pm, but I can think of several areas inside Compton where it would be dangerous, and in some areas downright suicidal, to walk after 6pm, especially 8pm. When it is “recent graduates from top colleges” you are trying to attract, safety has to be a prime concern. You can reasonably ask ‘tireless, idealistic, and demanding’ ivy league graduates to put in long hours, energy, and to postpone a high paying job for the betterment of disadvantaged children, but to ask them to put their lives in danger is a very different thing. I can only imagine what a recent graduate from Stanford, one who grew up in, say, Malibu or Beverly Hills, would think upon entering Compton for the first time, especially when the sun starts to go down. Imagine their thoughts when they hear gunshots for the first time? Or when they pass a murder scene on their way home? These are all common occurrences in Compton. It just makes sense to me that the high crime rate of the city itself has to be a significant deterrent in getting quality teachers in Compton public schools.

Which brings me to my next point: how would this problem ever get addressed under our status quo public school system we have now? It would be very difficult. When schools are constructed and run based on the political process, the result will always be one that satisfies voters first (lower taxes, cheaper, faster to construct, delays etc). However, under a voucher program many things could be done to address the problem. For one, more schools could be constructed in safer cities, or at the very least, on the edges of Compton where the freeways are closer. Putting schools closer to freeways has the benefit that teachers would not have to drive through much of Compton to get to the schools, all they have to worry about is the short distance from the school to the freeway entrance. This is, I strongly suspect, the reason why the Casino in Compton is right next to the 91 freeway, and in a secluded part of the city. If you want to attract high-income gamblers, you don’t place the Casino in the middle of a high crime city, you place it as close to the freeways and away from gang violence as possible. This is essentially what Bunche Elementary School did by having the school in Carson instead of Compton.

Vouchers, while giving the education system the mobility and adaptability that the current system lacks, while breaking the school system from the political process, creates a dynamic system where schools can quickly adapt to what works. If one education model is superior to another, say by removing a strong filter that eliminates many potential good teachers, other schools can more quickly follow suit, in the end benefiting those who have been harmed the most by the status quo, the poor students stuck in these failing schools.

2 Responses to “Further Thoughts On Bunche Elementary School”

  1. Michael Hanson says:

    First, schools don’t decide a location based on convenience to teachers, parents, etc. They are placed near where students live. I fnd it interseting that you see vouchers as the answer to education. How will students who don’t have transportation get to these “safely” located sites? I am sure a private school with vouchers will be located in a better part of town if they have to find a location.

    Teachers need to connect, as much as possible, to where students live to gain a better understanding of their students. A remote location will not work.

    I like the stereotype that Stanford graduates come from Beverly Hills or Malibu. And all Latinos live in the barrio and African-Americans live in the ‘hood.

    Oh, by the way, the gang influence and other negatives may have more of an impact on student success than schools like Bunche. How does a voucher impact the neighborhood and early development? Yeah, I forgot, voucher competition by schools solves all these issues by magic.

  2. You could easily work out a transportation system into a voucher system, much like public schools today work out a transportation in rural areas. In addition, who says that private schools under vouchers would locate so far away from paying customers – on the contrary, under a voucher system you would expect schools to be located where there are more paying customers.

    Just to clarify, I am not saying that a voucher system is the panacea, only that it is an improvement, and in alot of cases a drastic one, over the status quo.

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